PEPFAR Abstinence-Only Policies Come Under Fire

Naina Dhingra is the Director of International Policy at Advocates for Youth and serves on the Developed Country NGO Board Delegation of the Global Fund.

PEFPAR's prevention policies are under the microscope this week at the International AIDS Conference. There is a sense of outrage from the global community about the U.S. abstinence-until-marriage approach.

"It is illegitimate to dictate terms to governments that have their own policies and priorities and own ways to deal with the response," exclaimed Ambassador Stephen Lewis on the topic of U.S. global HIV prevention policy at a press conference convened this morning by the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO), and Advocates for Youth. "No government in the western world has the right to dictate policy to African governments in how they structure their response. That's called conditionality. That's totally unacceptable in today's world," Ambassador Lewis said.

The Evolution of the YouthForce

By: Naina Dhingra, Co-chair Barcelona YouthForce; Kayley Harrington, Co-organizer Bangkok YouthForce; and Beth Pellettieri, Advocacy Taskforce Co-chair and Coordinating Committee Toronto YouthForce.

Rewind four years ago to the Barcelona AIDS Conference in 2002. Fewer than 300 young people shocked the AIDS community by demanding that they start paying attention to youth through a coalition called the Barcelona YouthForce. The Barcelona YouthForce was inspired by Kent Klindera, the former Director of International Programs at Advocates for Youth. After years of attending International AIDS Conferences, Kent was disgusted that there was still no mention of youth. Kent reached out to friends at Family Health International and a partnership was born. The goal of the Barcelona YouthForce was simply youth visibility. Young people, despite being 50% of new infections, were invisible at the largest and most important meeting of the AIDS community. The 150 members of the Barcelona YouthForce armed with stickers, t-shirts, and a passion to be heard, demanded that conference attendees start paying attention to young people.

AIDS 2006 Opening Ceremony

Fimba is a youth from Burkina Faso who is attending the Toronto AIDS conference, sponsored by the Guttmacher Institute. Translation by Leila Darabi from Guttmacher.

I just got back from the opening ceremony and the presentations were interesting, especially the presentation of Bill Gates and a young Indonesian woman living with HIV.

Dr. Helene Gayle directed our attention to governments and the promises that they made during the past two conferences. She recommended that the promises they made aren't put in drawers, but that they are made real and kept. She gave the example that most of the governments made promises to include civil society in development programs and she recognized that some of them have kept these promises, that this is a good thing and she urged governments to continue in this way.

Little Moments Stand Out at the AIDS Conference

Tamar Abrams is the Communications Director for Population Action International.

It's the first full day of the International AIDS Conference and, for the first time since I arrived on Saturday, everyone seems full of purpose. All around the conference center, people are consulting their massive conference programme to determine which sessions they should attend.

At 7:00 this morning, the Caucus for Evidence-Based Prevention convened its first meeting of members. Considering the Women's March was happening simultaneously, a suprising number of people attended. The buzz was around last night's opening session. We were all in awe of the fact that the majority of conference attendees left the Rogers Centre immediately after Bill and Melinda Gates spoke -- and before celebs like Richard Gere, Alicia Keyes and the Barenaked Ladies appeared.

Chasing the Dream

Meheret Melles is a 20 year old Ethiopian-American student at the University of Maryland. She is on the International Youth Leadership Council at Advocates for Youth and a member of the Student Global AIDS Campaign.

After a day full of chasing dreams, youth gathered together for a night of theatre, live music, and art. As a volunteer, I had the pleasure to set up Chasing the Dream, an art exhibit of stunning photos, taken by youth in developing countries. These talented youth photographers were trained and released to venture around their community to capture the true essence of fear and excitement that their people candidly expressed. The rest of the night allowed Pre-Conference participants to mingle and enjoy the catered gourmet hors d'oeuvres.

HIV Prevention Integral to Reproductive Health

RHReality Check has a series of bloggers from Toronto, looking at HIV prevention through improved access to sexual and reproductive health care. The prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS is integral to sexual and reproductive health - and yet often ignored in that context.

HIV/AIDS, first and foremost, is a sexually transmitted disease. All too often, however, the response ignores the range of life's issues that relate to human sexuality - and neglects to address this disease for what it primarily is - a sexually transmitted disease.

The pandemic is growing fastest among women and young people, fueled by those who believe that knowing less, rather than more, is a road to informed decision making.

Solidarity in Toronto

Isn't it amazing when different social movements work together in peace and justice? This past week, 2,000 hotel employees in Toronto voted to authorize a strike, but after considering the havoc this would wreak on the HIV/AIDS conference (you know, the one that we keep gabbing about) they instead deferred the strike and declared their solidarity with people living with HIV/AIDS.

YouthForce Pre-conference Ready to Rock

Meheret Melles is a 20 year old Ethiopian-American student at the University of Maryland. She is on the International Youth Leadership Council at Advocates for Youth and a member of the Student Global AIDS Campaign.

When 250 youth from around the world meet to continue the fight against HIV/AIDS, how can you not be excited?

The first day of the Toronto YouthForce Pre-Conference couldn't have started with a more invigorating opening session. Grandma Heather Sole, an elder, and Brenda McIntyre, a Medicine Song Woman, blessed us with their presence in a self-healing ceremony. From then on, the aura of the Pre-Conference was filled with the positive energy and strong desire of youth to utilize their minds in order to strategically strengthen their presence at the Main Conference. The sessions covered a multitude of issues, from Trade Justice to Media & Communications. I even overheard some youth participants bewildered because they simply wanted to attend all the sessions!

Show Me the Lies

Missourians will be able to vote on the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative this fall, since it was certified by the MO Secretary of State on Tuesday. Supporters gathered more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, despite lies put out by the opposition.

Focus on the Family sent out over 90,000 brochures to Missouri residents, with quotes from women's organizations to strengthen opposition to the stem cell initiative. When the Center for American Progress contacted several of the women's organizations, they said their quotes had been taken out of context in order to misrepresent their views. In fact, these women's organizations are supportive of stem cell research. They do NOT think it is "exploiting women in the name of science" as the brochure says. Looks like Focus on the Family was exploiting women's health advocates!

Canada’s Conservative PM Snubbing AIDS Conference

Conservative ideologues share one important characteristic internationally, they believe in stigmatizing people with AIDS. Like his collegue to the south, President George Bush who sent his wife to UNGASS to put a kinder, gentler face on the wasted resources and missed opportunities of his HIV/AIDS policies, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is snubbing 25,000 public health professionals and AIDS prevention advocates who are gathering in Toronto for the International AIDS Conference.

One Canadian who works in the KwaZulu/Natal region of South Africa tells of her life and work there, making the case for the PM to attend. The contrast in her powerful story, and Harper's failure to make an appearance when the world has come to his country to do this important work, is stark.